How Your Mattress Is Killing You

You buy organic apples, you use milk and chalk paints, and you mix your own cleaning products to cut down on the toxic chemicals floating around your home — but did you know that your mattress could be killing you? Indeed, many mattresses are produced using questionable materials and processes that can have detrimental effects on your health and wellness. 

If you are getting a solid eight hours of shut-eye per night, you will spend roughly one-third of your life in close proximity with your mattress. Thus, you might want to know a bit more about what your mattress is made of and how you can make smarter sleep choices in the future.

The Worst of the Worst

Unfortunately, there isn’t just one bad thing in your mattress. Mattresses are surprisingly complex products, composed of many different materials, and as such, mattresses contain more than a few dangerously toxic components. While many dangerous elements within mattresses will only harm you if you damage the mattress or somehow ingest its materials, other materials are hazardous any time you are near your bed. Here are the worst of the worst of the materials within your mattress:

Polyurethane foam. Derived from petroleum products, polyurethane foam is a common material found in walls, under carpets, in clothing and definitely in furniture, including mattresses. Most often, this foam is used as a topper for innerspring or adjustable air mattresses. Unfortunately, long-term exposure to this foam is known to cause a whole host of problems, including cancer, autoimmunity issues, neurological disorders and asthma. This is because, like latex paints, polyurethane foams emit VOCs.

Formaldehyde. Best known as the stuff used liberally in embalming, formaldehyde is another material that is much more common than you might expect. Most cleaning products include formaldehyde (including laundry detergent, dish soap and body wash) and burning gas, like in furnaces and gas stoves, produce formaldehyde. Primarily, formaldehyde is a respiratory irritant linked with asthma and aggravated allergies, but it can also cause cancer and have neurological consequences.

Flame retardants. In the 1960s, the U.S. government passed a law requiring mattresses to pass flammability tests to reduce the dangers of fire within the home. Unfortunately, this compelled mattress manufacturers to bake flame retardants into their products. There are many different kinds of flame retardants, but the cheapest and fastest are polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are linked to cancer and nervous system disorders.

Boric acid. Boric acid is perhaps the most important ingredient in most roach killers, which immediately makes it sound exceedingly dangerous. The truth is that boric acid is used in mattresses to prevent bug infestations, and it boasts a relatively low toxicity level, especially if you don’t plan to chow down on your mattress. Still, skin and eye irritation isn’t uncommon with exposure to boric acid, which is why this material made this list.

Signs and Symptoms

Not everyone is at serious risk for developing health problems as a result of their mattress. However, if you are experiencing mystery symptoms that are affecting your quality of life, it might be worthwhile to consider that your mattress is the cause. Most often, signs of mattress off-gassing are minimal at first and easy to confuse with other environmental issues, like allergies or a cold. However, if you experience irritation of the throat, skin, nose or eye and/or difficulty breathing for a prolonged period of time without any other medical reason, you might want to look into replacing your mattress.

Solutions for Better Sleep

Believe it or not, there are organic mattresses that reduce or fully eliminate the toxic materials found in most mattresses. However, not every organic mattress is created equal. To ensure you don’t get duped by mattress buzzwords like “natural,” you should look for the following qualifications in your organic mattress:

Certifications. There are a handful of certifications that notify consumers that mattresses are organic, eco-friendly and the like, but the most important one is GOTS, or the Global Organic Textile Standard, which certifies that a mattress doesn’t make use of any harmful manufacturing processes or materials.

Natural materials. Speaking of materials, your organic mattress should advertise use of organic cotton and organic wool as well as natural latex, which is safer than memory foam or polyurethane foam. Don’t be fooled by synthetic latex, which could sneak in toxic substances.

Your mattress won’t kill you quickly and mercifully; it will do so slowly, over time, in an uncomfortable and frustrating way. You should vanquish your dangerous mattress before it can do more harm by replacing it with a safe, organic mattress using natural materials.